Considered one of the most brilliant humans to have ever lived, Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452 in Vinci, Italy to a humble, if not an unfortunate, beginning.
Born out of wedlock to a poor mother and abandoned by his father, Da Vinci was denied an education and was not seen as a respectable member of society. This was not enough to stop him from indulging in his infinite curiosity and sharing with the world a glimpse of the great genius he had stored within his mind. Da Vinci studied the world with both sides of his brain seeing that he was equally creative as he was a mean of reason. A genius in the purest meaning of the word, he was a scientist, artist, inventor, sculptor – only to name a few.
“I will do things no one in the past has dared to do… I will think new thoughts, and bring new things into being…” – Leonardo da Vinci
On his deathbed, Da Vinci left behind 13,000 pages of notes and drawings with which he lit up the path ahead for humanity. Such a visionary in his creations that some of his sketches, such as the structure of an airplane, were not thought up until some 500 years later. The sketch below features what Da Vinci called “The Flying Machine” as recorded in his manuscripts.
Although no doubt a highly creative individual, the genius also used certain logical elements in creating his art. Da Vinci would use mathematical constants found in nature to create a sense of harmony and balance in his paintings. For example, “Vitruvian Man” shown below features a study of the male body using the Golden Ratio. These constants can be found in all of his paintings. By merging both the logical and the creative, this Renaissance man left behind a legacy for visual artists and designers to be inspired by.
In his art, the creative mastermind was one of the few artists of the Italian Renaissance to implement perspective and depth in his paintings. Using the concept of “vanishing point”, he was able to render 3-dimensional and life-like renderings onto a two-dimensional tableau.
The Last Supper completed in 1497 remains one of the most famous in art history. This world-famous painting shows homage to perspective painting where objects vary in relation to space and each other.
As one of the brightest beacons of the Italian Renaissance, Da Vinci’s style of painting fell under the category of High Renaissance art. This style is best known its harmonious and well-balanced aesthetic. The viewer’s gaze is always drawn to a specific point of focus intentionally chosen by the artist.
High Renaissance artists, such as Da Vinci and Michael Angelo, thrived for perfection in their masterpieces by putting great emphasis on beauty and balance. By doing so, they achieved a sense of harmony among the elements of a composition. He believed that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Da Vinci’s understanding of composition has set the golden standard for professionals working in the field of visual arts. His insight has trained our eyes to see the world as he did.
The Mona Lisa (originally called “La Gioconda” which means “happy” in Italian) is considered the most famous painting in the history of art. She hangs in her own room in the Louvre in France where 6 million people visit her each year.
Born a peasant, Da Vinci reportedly died in the arms of the French King in 1519, where he had been working living during his final years. Da Vinci remains one of the foremost if not the most influential person to have walked the surface of the Earth. The ripples of his influence can still be felt some 500 years after his time. Let us aspire to learn as much as possible from the shreds of wisdom left behind by this exceptional being.
For more about Leonardo da Vinci, watch this beautiful documentary about him by the National Geographic.